Careers in Marine Science: Marine Sciences in Germany Today and Tomorrow


Although the catalog of scholarships, stipends, and grants available to young scientists for conducting independent research projects is actually quite attractive, there are challenges ahead for today's marine science community that could potentially prevent the top research results suggested by and to be expected from the current funding opportunities from being fully realized in Germany.

A non-negligible portion of the younger generation not only of marine scientists, but of those in other disciplines as well, has been migrating away from Germany to the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom during the past decades. Only a few are returning to resume scientific careers in their field in Germany. The Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung study "Project Talent" and a recent conference in Palo Alto, California ("German Scientists in the United States," January 2001), explored the reasons bright young scientists brave the competitive challenges abroad instead of choosing to stay here as an old German saying advises: "Bleibe im Lande und nähre Dich redlich," which translates as "Stay in your homeland and make an honest living." Those young scientists who managed to overcome certain stumbling blocks on their way back home often returned with a treasure of experiences gained abroad working in multi-principal investigator cooperative research projects. They therefore appear to be well equipped to plan, conduct, and coordinate similar nationally or internationally funded research partnerships. Examples are the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft's "Sonderforschungsbereiche" or multinational projects funded, for example, by the European Community, or funded jointly by the EC and one or more of those countries with which the EC has signed Cooperative Agreements.

The wanderlust of young scientists to seek well-funded and -organized universities and research labs abroad does not mean that those who stay here are not worthy of the stipends and research grants on offer for young scientists. Staying put within the traditional German university structures may well provide for a stable continuity that can lead to a high degree of specialization in a comparably short time, accompanied possibly by a sizable publication record. The universities offering marine science education at the graduate level have developed in the past 15 to 20 years curricula covering a good portion of pertinent subjects and analytical and observational techniques.

Still, it is only natural that young scientists with academic ambitions seek to expand their horizons. They are doing so in several ways: They cooperate with colleagues in multidisciplinary research projects nationally or within Europe, or they choose the more radical, all-immersive variant of changing continents from the Old to the New World. It cannot be denied that during the past 3 decades marine science in the United States, for example, has experienced an exciting and continuing boom.

One homemade obstruction to flourishing academic successes in our marine science departments is the so-called "5-Year Rule." The controversy is documented extensively on the Web site of the Institut für Meereskunde in Kiel. This 5-year clause, cemented as §§57a - ff in the German "Hochschulrahmengesetz" (General University Law), demands that scientists working in German universities or governmental research laboratories under a fixed-term appointment have to be either taken on the payroll permanently after 5 years or their work contract be discontinued with no possibility of finding another governmental employer within the same Bundesland. At present a large number of scientists, about 175,000, are working in temporally limited research projects that are funded from outside the employing institutions ("Drittmittel"). With steadily decreasing university personnel budgets, and stricter enforcement of the 5-Year Rule by the courts, all those science professionals are facing the danger of losing eligibility for re-employment. At this stage a general consensus exists between the scientists who are quickly seeing the end of their short research career approaching and many tenured professors, who see their research groups dissipating due to migration abroad and demotivation because positions for marine scientists outside of governmentally funded academia are few and far between. The 5-Year Rule in its present form has the opposite of its intended original effect, i.e., to provide job security for the scientist.


One way to successfully add value to the domestic marine science institutions is to internationalize certain study programs. This is an important step toward reversing the unwelcome trend of dwindling student numbers in the natural and also marine sciences. Not only are foreign students attracted to come and study in Germany, but the courses offered provide an excellent finishing school for traditionally trained German physical, biological, chemical, and geological oceanographers, because the working language is English, and the scope of the programs is designed to meet the high expectations of enrolled students. Enrolling in a well-structured master's program, along with a heterogeneous group of students, provides an attractive alternative to the demanding process of trying to feel at home and settle, albeit temporarily, in a foreign country. Presently a Master of Science course, "International Studies in Aquatic Tropical Ecology," is being offered by the University of Bremen and by the Center for Tropical Marine Ecology. The same university offers a master's in environmental physics and a Bachelor of Science in geosciences. At the University of Hamburg, in the International Center for Graduate Studies, a master's program in environmental sciences started in 1999. The University of Oldenburg is planning a master's program on coastal zone management. Similar plans are being discussed by marine scientists at the universities of Kiel ("Marine Science Master's Degree"), Rostock, and Greifswald ("Marine Environmental Monitoring and Assessment").

A comparative analysis of the training opportunities in marine science (and maritime affairs) and of the professional success of graduates of German and other European universities in their home countries as well as in other European countries and abroad is being planned by a Working Group of the European Federation of Marine Science and Technology Societies (see also the German Society for Marine Research Web page).

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